Danish journalist covering Indigenous opposition to Trans Mountain pipeline denied entry to Canada

A Danish journalist working on a documentary about Indigenous resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in British Columbia was banned from entering Canada, despite presenting press credentials and a 14-day quarantine plan.

Canada Border Services Agency says decisions on who can enter the country are made on a case-by-case basis

Journalist Kristian Lindhardt was denied entry into Canada, where he has been working on a documentary about Indigenous opposition to the federal government-owned Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. (Submitted by Kristian Lindhardt)

Update Aug. 25, 2020: International Federation of Journalists urges Canada to guarantee access after Danish journalist denied entry


A Danish journalist working on a documentary about Indigenous resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in British Columbia was banned from entering Canada, despite presenting press credentials and a 14-day quarantine plan.

Kristian Lindhardt was forced to board a flight back to Copenhagen from the Vancouver airport on Saturday afternoon, after a day of questioning from border officials, B.C. news website The Tyee first reported.

"I have been denied entry into Canada despite all press accreditation and paperwork in order. Was there to continue [my] documentary and coverage for [DR P1, a Danish news radio station] how the Canadian government uses COVID-19 to continue oil projects in secret and step on Indigenous people. Concerning for international press freedom," he said on social media, in a post which has been translated from Danish to English.

"It is an important issue for democratic rights and freedom of the press in the midst of the climate and coronavirus crisis."

The European Federation of Journalists compared the move to the muzzling of investigative journalists on trumped up COVID-19 reasons that it says it has seen in some eastern European countries during the pandemic.

"I am shocked that Canada should be among countries misusing COVID-19 restrictions," Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the president of the European Federation of Journalists, wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"Journalists should not be prevented from important reporting as it happened for the Danish journalist and documentarist Kristian Lindhardt when he arrived Canada to research and cover Indigenous opposition to Trans Mountain pipeline. This is a misuse of the COVID-19 crisis, a misuse we unfortunately also have see in Eastern Europe, where investigative journalists have been detained accused for not following the COVID-19 guidelines when telling critical stories."

He said that journalists, like all others, of course still need to follow COVID-19 safety precautions. He said the federation has teamed up with the Danish Union of Journalists to alert international journalists and media organisations, UNESCO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Journalists must prove they need to be in Canada, CBSA says

The Canada Border Services Agency declined to comment on Lindhardt's specific case, but said that all optional or discretionary travel into Canada by non-residents, like tourism, is currently banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

"Seeking entry for a professional visit as a journalist may be considered non-discretionary/non-optional provided there is a requirement for the journalist to be physically in Canada. The foreign national must clearly demonstrate and substantiate why they need to be in Canada to carry out the journalistic activity in order to be considered as coming to Canada for a non-discretionary purpose," a CBSA official said in an emailed statement.

The CBSA also said anyone entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days upon entering the country. 

But Lindhardt said he had all of his credentials in order, including a statement from his employer, DR (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation), an updated press card with a statement from the Danish Union of Journalists, and a letter from Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sundance Chief Rueben George explaining the necessity of his trip.

Lindhardt said he was questioned for four hours on Friday and two hours on Saturday by border officials.

"They were asking why I saw it as essential work, because they were saying media and foreign press aren't essential work," he told CBC News. "If it was a health risk, or they really had this rule that media was non-essential, they could have denied me entrance within five or 10 minutes."

Susan Bibbings, a long-time friend of Lindhardt, said he had made the arrangements to spend his 14-day quarantine period in a self-contained suite at her home in West Vancouver before travelling east to Tsleil-Waututh reserve land.

"Kristian had done all of his homework to make sure he could enter into Canada during the current pandemic," she said.

"He was pulled aside at the very last moment before exiting the airport and was questioned for four hours by immigration regarding the reason for him coming and the subject matter of the journalism that he was hoping to be reporting on."

Indigenous chiefs and elders lead a protest against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby, B.C., on March 10, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Bibbings said it appeared to Lindhardt that the border officer was sceptical of his press credentials and took exception to the subject matter of his journalism, even going so far as to conduct a lengthy phone call with George questioning the reason for Lindhardt's visit. 

George said in an interview with CBC that he told the border officer that Lindhardt needed to conduct his journalism in person, to witness the continuing work on the pipeline expansion to tell their story to a non-First Nations audience.

"[The border guard], he's saying 'why now? Why not later?' Well, there might not be a later, because a spill happened while [Lindhardt] was away a month ago and … construction's still going on, we're still forced to go deal with our Supreme Court. So they're not stopping," George said.

Lindhardt said that after the border officials consulted with colleagues in Ottawa, where the CBSA is headquartered, the decision was made that he would have to return to Denmark. 

He said he was not given a reason entrance was denied other than the border officials' repeated assertion that "media is not essential."

The CBSA told CBC News that upon arrival, travellers must demonstrate that their travel is not discretionary, and that decisions by CBSA officers are made on a case-by-case basis.

Journalists are not explicitly listed on the Chief Public Health Officer's list of essential services that are exempt from the travel restriction, but technicians who maintain critical infrastructure like pipelines are included.

Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation speaks to media after the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss an appeal by multiple First Nations against the TMX pipeline expansion on Feb. 4, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I appreciate it's a pandemic but there are many crises that are more serious than this. And to use that as an excuse to deny international press into the country is really appalling," Bibbings said.

"This really begs the deeper question of the conflict of interest of the Canadian government owning a pipeline expansion project."

The federal government purchased the pipeline project for $4.5 billion. It currently moves 300,000 barrels of crude oil each day between Alberta and the B.C. coast, and the expansion would increase its capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Work on the project is currently underway.

In July, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from a group of First Nations in B.C. looking to challenge the federal government's second approval of the project, due to what they said was a lack of Indigenous consultation.

"There's very little coverage within Canadian media about the growing opposition to this pipeline … so it takes international coverage to draw attention to this issue, of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous opposition to the pipeline, when we're in the middle of a climate emergency," Bibbings said.

Lindhardt spent four months in the community last year, and said for many of Tsleil-Waututh Nation's legal challenges, he has been the only journalist present. 

"Canadian media have mostly only been there for the big press conferences but haven't been covering how it's affecting the community," he said. "This story can't wait." 

Lindhardt said he plans to return to B.C. to continue reporting on the community and the pipeline construction as soon as he can. 


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.